Rory McIlroy began his 2021 season in sparkling fashion, assembling a spotless 64 to take a one-shot first round lead over Ryder Cup teammate Tyrrell Hatton at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship on Thursday.
The four-time major winner arrived at this first of three tournaments in the Gulf after a winless 2020.
But the 31-year-old Northern Irish golfer shrugged off a near three-hour fog delay to lead the pack at eight-under par on his return to Abu Dhabi after a gap of two years.
“It feels good,” McIlroy told Sky Sports after carding his lowest score at an event where he has done well in the past without winning.
“I knew 65 is the best I’ve shot here and I’ve shot it a few times, so I thought let’s try to go one better on the next nine and I was able to do that.”
Looking back on his 2020 which ended with a tie for fifth at the rescheduled Masters at Augusta National he said: “It was getting better as the year went on and honestly it was sort of disappointing that it finished when it did because I felt like I was getting right back into it.”